Art of war

Remember the Dixie Chicks? I was never really into their music, but I do recall noticing their scantily clad bodies on the sides of buses and assorted billboards. Shortly after George W. Bush began bombing oil-rich Afghanistan and Iraq back to the future, the Dixie Chicks spoke out publicly against his agenda. That took guts.

Well, the cowboy bebop folks didn’t much care for chicks with guts. The country radio stations across the nation ceased playing the Dixie Chicks and couldn’t give away tickets to their concerts. They were mocked repeatedly at the 2003 Country Music Awards and called upon to explain themselves by none other than that journalist of journalists, “Baba Wawa.”

The Dixie Chicks dared question American policy, and they paid a heavy price for their sin against the fatherland.

However, as Howard Zinn’s latest book, Artists in Times of War, makes all too clear, in speaking out against war, the Dixie Chicks were participating in a rich and time-honored artistic tradition.

Artists are creators, and, as such, they believe in life, not death. It is the artist’s nature to abhor war. Throughout American history, artists have felt compelled to resist war in one way or another. Some, like the Dixie Chicks, used their celebrity power to speak out against war. Others, like Mark Twain, e.e. cummings, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, to name but a few literary examples, infused their art itself with antiwar sentiments. Zinn utilizes both approaches in his struggle for peace.

Zinn is a World War II veteran; a professional historian; an author of numerous books, including the world-renowned People’s History of the United States; a grandfather; and one hell of a good guy. He also is an artist who has now written another book that demands our attention.

More of a pamphlet than an actual book, Artists in Times of War consists of four essays, or, rather, edited adaptations of recent talks given by the professor. Both accessible to a general audience and full of wit, Artists can be read in an evening, digested overnight and acted upon in the morning.

Though historical precedents abound in Artists, the pamphlet, like all of Zinn’s works, is much more than a history; it is a call to action.

“What most of us must be involved in,” Zinn writes in one essay, “whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.” That’s quite a heavy responsibility to throw on someone, undoubtedly—but consider the alternative.

Addressing the intensive U.S. bombing of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number of civilians killed by bombs purchased with our hard-earned tax dollars, Zinn states solemnly, “We’ve met terrorism with terrorism.” Not content to search for a few needles, the United States blew up the entire haystack—because, hell, you never know, one of those thousands of bombs dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan just may have landed on Osama Bin Laden’s head.

From both a pragmatic and a moral point of view, Zinn argues that “war is indefensible.

“People ought to speak out … and instead create a discussion about what is going on,” he concludes. “Or else we become victims, as people all over the world have become victims to their governments, and have allowed wars to go on endlessly, one after the other.”

Zinn is right; it is time we put an end to state-sponsored terror. It is time to stop the killing. It is time we, too, became artists and spoke out for peace.

That is, if you’ve got the guts.